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Barry Goldwater explains: why Chained-CPI is such a big, hairy deal

Bactrian Camel by Just_Chaos via flikrBack in 1958, Barry Goldwater explained his opposition to a bill this way:   “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”

In other words: a tremendous – unwanted – change can be started by a little tiny encroachment… and then the rest of the change will come right along behind it.

Those of us in the union movement have seen this strategy in action, too many times to count.

Recognize this scenario?  Workers used to have fully-paid health insurance.  Then management insisted on a small “contribution” toward the cost.  Then premiums were “shared”.  Now, in too many workplaces, there is no health insurance at all.

How about this one?  Workers used to have employer-sponsored pension plans.  Then employers insisted on moving to 401(k) plans.  Now, very few jobs (other than at the CEO level) offer any type of retirement plan at all.

Or this one?  Union workers used to have job security.  Then employers insisted on contract amendments so they could hire part-timers or contractors “in emergencies”.  Now, some worksites are staffed entirely by part-timers or contract employees, and job security is very, very hard to find.

As Barry Goldwater described things: It’s the camel’s nose, creeping in… and the rest of the camel soon follows.

And that’s why union leaders are reacting so strongly to proposals that would change Social Security benefits by tying Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) to “chained CPI” (rather than the usual Consumer Price Index).

Union members have had enough experience with this strategy; by now, we recognize a camel’s nose when we see one.

The idea of “privatizing” Social Security has been rattling around the Republican Party since Barry Goldwater ran for President.

But it hasn’t happened yet – despite the recent best efforts of George W. Bush and Paul Ryan.

So during debt limit negotiations in the summer of 2011, the Republicans took a different tack.  Rather than trying to get the camel in through the tent door… they just asked for a little, tiny change to the way that Social Security COLAs are calculated.  Just one little, tiny change.

That debt limit crisis was resolved – with the camel’s nose still outside the tent – by the deal we all know as “sequestration”.  And since that time, the Fiscal Cliff has passed and a possible government shutdown has been avoided.  But that one little tiny change to Social Security has remained a Republican priority.

The White House held a press briefing the day before President Obama’s budget was filed.  One important point from that briefing was never covered by the mainstream press:

[S]enior administration officials characterized the official adoption of Chained CPI as both a recognition that rounding out a grand bargain will require making concessions to the GOP, and as a final gesture of good faith to Republicans in Congress… But the officials also stressed that Chained CPI will never become law unless Republicans respond (in unlikely fashion) by agreeing to limit tax expenditures benefiting high-income earners.  If they don’t, it will mark the end of Obama’s two-year quest to secure trillions of dollars in deficit reduction on a bipartisan basis.

In other words, don’t believe new National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden when he talks about chained CPI as “a shocking attack on seniors.”

How can it possibly be “shocking”, Rep. Walden?

Republicans have been trying to “reform” Social Security since Barry Goldwater ran for President, almost half a century ago.

And Barry Goldwater knew full well how to get a camel into the tent.

 

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About Liz Iacobucci

Liz Iacobucci is the former Public Information Officer for the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, SEIU Local 1984. Over the past three decades, she has served in government at the federal, state and municipal levels; and she has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians.
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